How To Know If Your Traveler's Illness Might Be A Parasite

There are thousands of reasons to travel, but, for me, it's about connecting. Finding common ground, meeting new people, and creating unforgettable experiences are why I hit the road. And, as a food lover, I believe that sharing a meal makes for fast friends. 

So, when Doctor’s Best asked me how I live #MyBestLife, the first thing that came to mind is how making new friends through my travels has been a huge upside to my work. I usually make connections through cooking, eating, or some form of food, but I learned through some health problems there are some friends you don't want to make. 

Aida cooking in Israel | @saltandwind |

Cooking (And Eating) To Connect

Be it mastering chutney in India, tackling hummus in Lebanon, roasting lamb in the Jordanian dessert, cooking up tom kha in Thailand, or finessing my tagliata skills in Tuscany, cooking while I travel has become a tradition. But sometimes those food adventures come with a health risk.

Travel enough and you accept that basic illnesses — catching a cold from your neighbor on the plane or having an upset stomach after trying a new food — as collateral damage. But you shouldn’t accept being miserable for weeks. I didn’t realize that (just thought it came with the territory) and paid the price. As in, I had an unwanted friend (aka a parasite), but it took years to figure it out.

Cooking In India

Tasting The World

On my first trip to India, I crisscrossed the country for weeks and ate every food I encountered. I had a hard time adjusting to my U.S. diet when I got home — a few doctor’s visits and tests later revealed I had caught giardia (save yourself the eew factor and don’t Google it).

It was supposed to have been resolved, but, from then on, every time I’d traveled somewhere new — say, Lebanon, Cuba, or Jordan — I’d get sick. As in, high fever, stomach flu-symptoms for at least a week straight.

I wrote it off as the price you pay to travel until, after my trip to Israel, I got sick and couldn’t get better. It got so bad that allmost anything I ate caused what felt like a forest fire in my stomach. I was told it acid reflux or an ulcer, but after rounds of medicine, things only got worse. At the height, I couldn’t eat anything without being in excruciating pain.

Travel Digestive Health: Keeping A Food Journal | @saltandwind |

Honing In On Health With A Food Journal

By keeping a food journal, I was quickly able to assess what did (and didn't) work. I discovered the least offensive foods were a sort of twist on the BRAT diet: basic healthy whole foods like bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados, lean poultry, simple smoothies, and yogurt. And I learned that anything that was generally considered unhealthy (ie refined sugar, simple carbs, and alcohol) would cause fierce flare ups. So, yes, my diet got super boring super quickly!

Doctor's Best Simple Smoothie | @saltandwind |

After months of doctors' appointments and referrals, I ended up at a internist who put me through a ton of tests and concluded I had either never gotten over giardia or had contracted yet another parasite. Gross, yes, but then parasites are easier to get than most people realize. As in you don’t need to be traveling to get one. Do you have a pet? Work in your garden a lot? Walk around barefoot? You could be susceptible to parasites too, FYI.

I was then given a prescription for metronidazole, which is as impossible to pronounce as it is too forget. As in, this medicine makes itself known when you take it (I would get so dizzy, nauseous, weak that I couldn't work or drive a with my digestive health so I honed in on rebuilding my gut's flora. That meant taking billions of probiotics daily and eating naturally probiotic-rich foods (hello, yogurt! kombucha! miso!).

Travel Digestive Health: Doctors Best Vitamins Probiotic Melts | @saltandwind |

Keeping Everything In Check

These days I have commited to eating probiotic-rich foods on a pretty much daily basis as a means to stay my healthiest. And when I’m traveling I've started bringing probiotics like these Probiotic Melts from Doctor's Best. They're conveniently packaged in individual servings and pretty perfect because you just open them and pour them in your mouth and you're good to go.

My probiotic commitment means that it’s now been almost six months (with travels from Europe to Thailand to Mexico) without any health problems. I'm back to enjoying my food adventures in full force and more than ever feel like I'm living my best life. So, yes, I travel to connect with people, but I learned the hard way that I need to be my healthiest to make the most of it.

Doctor's Best Probiotic Melts | @saltandwind | www.saltandwind.comTravel Digestive Health: Doctors Best Vitamins Probiotic Melts | @saltandwind |

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P.P.S. Hitting the road soon? Show us how you travel in good taste by sharing your adventures on Instagram with the #swsociety hashtag!

This story was sponsored by Doctor’s Best but all content, ideas, and words are my own. Thanks for supporting these sponsors who allow us to keep Salt & Wind up and running. 

Opening photo by Kristen Kellogg; Aida in Tel Aviv by Haim Yosef for Vibe IsraelMasala chai by Shikhar Bhattarai; All other photos by Chris Kalima